I found Emmaus in May 2014 after getting evicted from the flat I called home for more than 26 years.
I lived in a ground floor flat in Streatham, South London, since the 80s but got into a dispute with new neighbours above me who were very noisy. The landlord chose to take their side because he wanted to re-develop my flat. After a six-month court case, I was evicted in December 2013 with nowhere to go.
The little family I did have left all lived in Shropshire, but I didn’t get on with them and had no one to turn to. I went to the council to see what I could do. I was provided with information on where to get free or discounted meals but received no help in terms of accommodation. I put all my possessions in storage because I didn’t want to lose everything I owned. Knowing my belongings were safe did take a lot of stress off me, but I still went on to spend five months rough sleeping.
Being homeless at any time is terrible, but over winter is brutal and the physical pain is awful. The day after I was evicted, I can remember it rained heavily and I was wearing trainers with holes in. I ended up getting athletes foot that lasted for months even through the spring.
During the day time, especially in the cold weather, you can’t really lie down. I ended up walking hours every day to keep warm and became very sore doing that. I remember one night in February 2014 it was so cold that I couldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes without waking. Even then, I felt like I was being bitten all over my body.
I asked for help at a local Church of England organisation called Spires, who provided advice on accommodation as well as two meals a day, four times a week. It was here that I found out about Emmaus. I moved to the Lambeth community in May 2014, before arriving at Emmaus Hertfordshire in July 2015.
The best thing about coming to Emmaus after five months on the street was simply being able to sleep in a bed again and to have a regular shower – it straight away felt like normal life had finally resumed. In the Hertfordshire community, I was, and still am, very appreciative to have one of the new rooms funded by a business supporter of Emmaus. I have an en-suite bathroom and having that privacy is nice – it really does make a difference to my day waking up in a room that I love.
Since being at Emmaus, I’ve learned a lot of different things through working in the social enterprise. I thought I would be doing just one job all the time, but staff encourage us to try working in all the areas to see what we like best. I work mostly in housekeeping making sure the community is clean or on the vans collecting and delivering furniture. It might not sound like a complicated job, but there’s an artform to lifting furniture all day. We have recently introduced a computerised system on the vans to record gift aid, which I was very happy to receive training on.
There are a lot of opportunities here at Emmaus on top of a home and work experience. If someone wanted driving lessons, or a passport, or a specific training course, Emmaus helps to fund that. I’m a musician and recently bought myself a guitar but broke the headstock. I mentioned this in passing to the support team, and I was surprised to find out they could put money towards a new upgraded model for me if I covered the rest. Emmaus supports people in all areas if it’s needed and the opportunities for moving on are very good.
Coming up, I will be spending Christmas in the community which I’m looking forward to because it’s always a big spread. In the new year, I want to continue working on the skills I am gaining at Emmaus and l hope to look for employment in something I can apply those skills to.